Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Seeking: Volunteer hair!

Hello, my friends --

It's raining today. The clouds are dark and heavy. The sound of rain hitting the ground sounds like relief; it reminds me of someone sighing as they unload a heavy bag. I feel that same relief tonight. I am sitting here, watching a movie. I ate. I'm watching and doing nothing else. I am allowing myself the indulgence of doing nothing for one night: no meetings. No volunteering. No flurry of rushed e-mails and trying to cram as much as I can into my days as I can.

It's nice to sit. It's nice to take care of me for a few hours and to do nothing but enjoy myself. It's nice to sit and blog.

I have started writing this blog about a hundred times in the last month. I tried to write it during a training session where I learned that forty percent of Canadians are semi- to functionally illiterate. I've tried to write it after several disappointing wheelchair-related mechanical failures. I have tried to write knowing that there are people out there who really and truly read my blog (that are not my Mom!) and who really and truly like my blog (who are not my husband). I wish that, in and of itself was enough for me to blog every single day like a teenager with a diary. What a feather in my cap!

Here's the big question: how do I write about the things that affect and effect me without becoming redundant or preachy? It is my personal blog battle: to make issues that are important to me; important to everyone without becoming one of those people that nobody listens to anymore.

My battle as a blogger also translates itself into my personal life: how do I remain a staunch advocate for the things that I believe in and support without alienating people? Where is the line between advocate and whiner? Where and when do you draw that line? I'm not sure we always know the answer to that.

Sometimes I feel like I spend so much time advocating that my voice gets lost among all of the other advocates out there. So, I sat back and thought about it: how else can I get it out there? I need to find another way to advocate for myself and for the things that I believe in. So, I decided that this is what my blog should be used for. Social reflection. Thinking about what social action and social activism means to me, and using the blog as a spot to do that reflection.

After reflecting, you must be willing to act. To dust off, and get down to it. To be a part of the change that you want to see in the world, not just sit back and hope that it will happen someday. So I started volunteering again. I made a commitment to myself to become a bigger and more involved part of my community - to support the causes that are important to me; but also to support causes that are not as important to me so that I might learn about what it means to be someone who is not in my position.

So: I joined a choir. The Big Gay Choir. I wanted to align myself with people for whom I thought it was important to fight. By standing as an ally in a cause I had no vested, personal interest in to say, "what is important to you is important to me, because you are important".

And then BGC snowballed: I joined every committee I could to help support the choir. Committees turned into Pride; Pride to Second Harvest... 6 St. Joseph House, the Weekend to End Women's Cancers... you get the idea. Now, I look at my calendar each day...each week, and see nothing. No blank space. I have a meeting every night this week. I have a meeting every night next week (7 days, not 5). Today, while on the phone scheduling an intake meeting for a volunteer tutoring program, I was astounded to see (actually, physically see) that I have no free evenings until the first week of November. Really?!

And then, I went to the ladies room. And I cried. I cried so hard I shook. I've cried not for the loss of my free time (we don't have cable anyway), but for the fact that there is no real proof that any of the lost sleep; rushed e-mails and always being the first to say "I will take care of that" is doing one damned thing to change this world, or to change the lives of others.

At what point does it become less about giving back and more about leaving clumps of hair in the shower drain?

The good thing about clumps of hair in the shower drain? They give you the time and pause to stop and think: "tonight? I'm going to eat dinner, watch a movie and spend the evening with my husband". I'd volunteer for that any day.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The pen is mightier than the Transit Service!

Hello, my friends...
I have been ruminating over my recent selection of blog-worthy fodder. What should I post? What is my motivation for choosing to write on what I do? Is my aim to be impactful, funny or to use my blog as a medium for social consciousness and activism?

Like choosing doughnuts for a party pack: doughnuts are good no matter what they're sprinkled, stuffed or glazed with. Right? You'd think so. But it turns out that not all doughnuts are created equal. Some taste better than others. Some look pretty in the display case, but taste bad in your mouth (you'll recall the 'sour cream chocolate glaze'). Others, they taste so good, you'll happily eat one every morning. Then suddenly, there's a new flavour introduction, and the doughnut romance is on the outs.

Isn't it interesting? We fall so madly in love with the new and interesting so quickly, and just as quickly we fall out of love. Newer and faster; bigger and better. A taste sensation that will blow your mind and change your life. Funny, but all this pastry talk reminds me of politics.

Politicians: pick me! Pick me! I am better than the other guy! I look better than the other guy! I talk better than the other guy; I do more, spend less, and you get more for your money. Like a Timbit 10-pack for $1.99. How's that for political participation? I look at the people chosen to represent me and see a discount box of doughnut run-offs.

You might wonder what it is that I am getting at. Doughnuts and politicians. Well, here's the thing: one day after eating doughnuts every morning with your Orange Mocha Frappuccino, you discover biscotti. There are other options. They are part of the pastry family, but they walk the walk and talk the talk.

Last Friday, I discovered biscotti, in the form of Ms. Kathleen Wynne. After purchasing my Frangelico for hazelnut pots des cremes, we walked past Ms. Wynne en route home. I recalled my letter to the now infamous Regional Transit Company that shall remain nameless.

I copied that letter to every Member of Parliament and Member of Provincial Parliament in my local riding (not to mention every media outlet that I could think of, the Prime Minister and the Human Rights Commission), hoping to get some kind of resoultion and recognition for what I felt was an affront to my right to dignity and fully realized personhood.

It turns out that Ms. Wynne is also the Minister of Transportation (how's that for efficiency; killing two birds with one stone?). She got two copies of the letter (so I guess it wasn't that effective). I showed that letter to everyone. I wanted everyone to know what had happened to me; moreover, that it had happened and I was not taking this lying down. I would use the tools at my disposal to take a stand. For me and for everyone else who had endured being subjected to judgements based on the values of others.

People laughed (Yes. They laughed). They told me that I was wasting my time; all this letter writing was taking away from the beauty and joy of my life. I could make better choices for my spirit and sense of self by sloughing it off and chalking it up to the stupidity of others. But I was like a dog with a bone. I couldn't let this go.

I sent it. And I waited. And I waited some more.

And then it came: 'I have been in contact with the company. It is my position that the matter has been resolved satisfactorily. No further intervention from this office is required'. Or something like that. I was crushed. It seemed no one wanted to stand up and say that it was not okay to say that disabled people are a waste of space.

I left it alone. I thought maybe those people were right. My letter accomplished nothing.

Fast forward to election time. Rob Oliphant came to my door. He asked for my vote.

I told him that he would under no circumstances, get my vote. He seemed incredulous. I explained about The Letter and that I'd not received a response, even a perfunctory one. I showed him a copy. He said he'd never seen it (now it was my turn for incredulity: I knew enough about the letter writing process to know that MP's are legally bound to respond, even if it's perfunctory) I was very clear about my position: how can I support your candidacy or your positions if you aren't aware of mine?

I closed the door in his face. I admit it wasn't the most lady-like thing I could have done. I will also admit that I felt completely justified, maybe even a little vindicated.

I rejoiced in it! My belief in the power of the written word was renewed (even if only marginally)! Constituents have power! What we do and what we say means something. To some, it appears only as a drop in the bucket. To me, it was a VICTORY!

Fast forward again to pots des cremes. There she was, there in the mall. And I was conflicted: should I say something to her or should I just let it die (already!)?

The stand up and fighter in me said 'no way'. So, I talked to her. It went something like this. This is not, by any means, a verbatim relay.

ME: Hi. My name is Little Miss Sunshine and I am a voter in your riding. I wanted to talk to you about my letter. A letter that I sent to you about a year ago.
MINISTER: I'm sorry. What letter? You'll have to remind me.
ME: I wrote you a letter about Regional Transit Company.  I was abused, degraded and humiliated on a public vehicle. I sent you a letter. I asked you for your understanding.
ME: I wanted to tell you that I was really disappointed by your response.
MINISTER: What was my response?
ME: You sent me a response saying that you thought they had done enough. Did they tell you what their solution was?
ME: It was the cost of my ticket. $6. I felt like you were telling me that my dignity was worth only $6. I know you as an MP, and I know about the things that you stand for and the efforts that you have made on behalf of this community; I was expecting more. I felt let down.

We spoke for about 30 minutes. She apologized many times over (which I really didn't think was necessary). She also explained to me that she signs all of her letters personally (which apparently is not de riguer. I knew this.) We talked about some of the realities facing disabled travelers who chose not to employ parallel transportation options. That, in spite of millions of dollars in funding and retrofitting, accessibility is differently defined by those who are disabled and those who are not.

I told her about what happened with Mr. Oliphant. How I felt so empowered in doing what I had done.  My feelings of empowerment had been reinforced by this conversation,  being able to confront my disappointment and having it openly and respectfully acknowleged.

She encouraged me to continue my letter writing; that it is not futile. She looked me in the eye and shook my hand. I haven't felt that tall in a long time.

Good night, lovelies....xo

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A thank you to Myrlie Evers

Hello, my friends...

Here I sit, on a gloomy Sunday. Alone with my thoughts, and "The Ghosts of Mississippi" in the background - courtesy of the Toronto Public Library. I have watched this movie over and over and over. There is something about it that calls out to me. Demands to be watched; to be heard and to be understood. It holds my rapt attention; yet I can't seem to figure out why.

Is it the cinematography? Maybe. It is a beautiful picture. The acting? There certainly is something captivating about seeing Myrlie Evers brought to the screen. Each and every time the music from the opening sequence brings an ache to my soul and a twist in my gut.

But something tells me that there is more to the way I am feeling than the scenery, the music and the acting. Ms. Evers carried on her husband's fight for equality, peace and justice for more than 25 years after he was killed by Byron de la Beckwith. She and others, stood firm on what was right and fair. For as long as it took. The second time I watched this, I wondered if Ms. Evers felt the hopelessness and futility of her battle; if she ever wanted to just lay down the battle axe and let Medgar rest. I've wondered if she has ever been overcome with despair; thought that the destination just wasn't worth the journey.

I can't comment on that. I don't personally know Ms. Myrlie Evers. I don't know what she felt in the quarter century after her husband's death, and journey to justice.

An "aha!" moment, I think. It's not the pictures, the acting or the music. It's the fight. Taking a hit; falling down. But always getting back up. Toothless and bloody - but standing up nonetheless.

I have had many, many moments in my life where I have felt that the battle is not worth fighting. Its futility is all too clear to me. The challenge is insurmountable - you may as well ask me to cure cancer.

President Kennedy said, "those who act boldly recognize right as well as reality." You must be willing to take bold, and uncompromising steps to stand for what is right.

Does what you do boldly still count when your 'steps' are taken sitting down?

I worry. I worry that it does not, or is at least diminished.

Have you ever wept on a subway train? The hurt becomes so overwhelming that you feel like you'll explode, ripping from the inside out. And yet, you are powerless to push back against the weight holding you down; your soul feels so heavy that you wonder if you will ever feel lightness and joy again.

I have.

Lately, I've felt as though the weight of the world is upon me. I am a strong, educated woman. I am a lucky woman. By most measures, most people would see me as successful. I have a job that I love, a strong and healthy marriage. Our home is a nurturing one where everyone is safe to be whomever they please. I am so proud of that fact, in and of itself.

But in all of this, I feel that my own steps are diminished.

So where am I going with this? I'm not sure that even I know that. But I know that somehow, it comes back to what I thought was "Paying it Forward".

I have thought about and spoken out about the idea of "Paying it Forward". Every day acts of kindness that have the power to change someone's life. Do they really? Or do they have more diminishing and dehumanizing power than we realize? Are we really cognizant of the fact that what we think might be kindness is really undermining personhood?

I didn't think of this possibility until that day, on the train. I was feeling defeated in my efforts to try and leave my mark on this world - to help people help themselves to change their own lives.

Then a young man standing next to me said, "here. Take my mitts." I told him that I already had some, and I "didn't need them". I was overcome with shame.

I remember that man, standing outside of Shopper's Drug Mart when I gave him my gloves and hat on a winter night in 2008. I remember the woman I gave my earrings to...the woman I gave a subway token to in the grocery store...the man I invited in to a restaurant for lunch. Did they feel the same shame that I did?

I will always wonder about that now.

Then, the young man asked me if I would like him to "pray for me". Usually I am quite good at kindly and politely declining requests for prayer. My shame was intensified in a way that I have never experienced before. I could feel all of those eyes on me; each and every one of them filled with pity.

Charles Evers told Bobby DeLaughter about Robert Johnson, the night before the final trial. Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues, was a blues guitar player whom was rumoured to have 'sold his soul to the devil to play guitar like that'.

In that moment, I would have sold my soul. To get up and walk away from that chair; I would give anything. I wanted to die.

It is my prison. I am imprisoned; but part of a world that pretends I am free. That I am equal.

President Kennedy said in his 1963 Civil Rights address, that "if a man cannot enjoy a full and free life, who among him would be content to have the color of his skin changed?"

If I cannot be free to enjoy a full and free life who among me would be content to trade places with me?

I expect that I will receive a great many comments about just how fortunate I really am. I do not turn away from my blessings, nor do I fail to recognize the struggles of others and their own pain. I will be right there with you to carry it, should you want me there.

My struggle is plain. There for the world to see. I have no choice.

No choice but to pick up, carry on, and keep on fighting. To be one of "those who act boldly, recognizing right as well as reality."

No matter how long it takes. I guess I have Myrlie to thank for that.

Goodnight, lovlies. I love you all, very much...xo

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Paying it Forward

Hello, beauties!

Today marks my first official blog of the new year - 2011! Happy New Year to each of you! I trust that the holidays have found each of you well, and that you are taking good care of each other.

Dear Sainted Husband is out at a production meeting for his new play. So, I am taking this time to figure out which of my closest causes warrant space in my very first blog of the year. This, while my rice pudding bubbles away as a soul-warming treat for the man who warms my soul.

Thinking about the wonderful fortune of my love life makes me think about the less than wonderful fortune of others, romantic and otherwise. I often think about people in need, and what I can do as one small person, to make a big difference. It is a daunting thing, really. The idea of one tiny person trying to change the world is enough to make anyone back off and say, "forget it. This really isn't a job for me. There are other people who are better at this kind of thing than I."

My thinking has been greater solidified by a number of things - not least of which is reading Catherine Ryan Hyde's "Pay it Forward" in the last couple of days (seriously - awesome read. Worth missing your subway stop for). Sure, it's a work of fiction, but can you imagine the kind of change we could see in this world if we were all willing to work together to be a part of it?

I have been turning ideas over and over in my head - how do I make myself part of the change for a better world? Is it volunteering? Is it supporting people in their struggle as simply an ally and nothing more? Does it really require the sweeping actions of the Pay it Forward Movement?

There is no easy answer. There are pros and cons for each, and each works better in some situations than others. 

It really is harder than you might think to make the sweeping kind of Pay it Forward gesture.  Consider the example of my friend, "Joe".

Joe lives in a supported living situation, where a governmental organization pays the people he lives for his care. His financial means are limited by his situation and the rules of the organization.

After the failure of my planned European tour, I wanted to take the money that I'd been refunded and give some of it to him; so he could do something really cool with his summer - build some memories in his life that were just for him.

DSH and I discussed this at length. He agreed that it made sense. He would support me. We presented the idea. We were shut down, most unceremoniously. No matter which way you cut it, policy says no.

Policy-schmolicy, right? That's what I thought. No matter who I screamed and bellyached at about how nonsensical this was, it seemed my bellyaches were falling on deaf ears.

I couldn't - and still don't - understand. As a staff member at an organization supporting people with complex needs and never enough money, we struggle to find ways to make people's dreams come true; help them build memories. Never in my (short) career have we had someone do anything like this. I thought it would be easy. Just offer it, and they would take it. Done.

No siree, Bob. We like our terrible and completely unfair system just the way it is, thanks. Move along, and take your silliness with you.

Silly. I know. But that's what it feels like. I can't wrap my head around it. My very intelligent head. No comprendo, senor.

I have turned this over and over in my mind, to try and figure out if there was anything that I could have done differently to ensure a different result for Joe. No matter which way, I work it, I can't find a new solution.

Then I read "Pay it Forward". A new idea - or rather, a very old one - burbled to the surface of my brain. An idea that was bigger than policy and vacation. Or so I thought.

What if, like 'Trevor', I gave someone a safe place? A warm place to sleep, with a hot shower, some clean clothes...a meal? I have the space. Lord knows, I have plenty of food.

I often walk by people on the street and wonder what to say. What to do. I have also walked up to people on the street and, more than once, taken off my hat/gloves/both and given it to them. I have seen the looks on people's faces when I do it, too. Stunned. There is no other word for it.

Riding the subway en route to Pride 2010, a woman commented that she liked my earrings. So I took them off and gave them to her. Dear, Sainted Husband stared at me, incredulous. As did the woman. I can still remember her face; to this day:

"Why would you do that?" Incredulous Woman asks, jaw agape.
"Because you like them."
"Yes, I do. Don't you?"
"Of course I do. I have lots of earrings. You can have these ones."

Why wouldn't I? It was obvious that she was surprised. Clearly no one had ever done that for her before.  But maybe someday, she will think back on it, and remember a complete stranger who did something nice for someone else, just because she could.

I remember when someone did that for me. On the subway. I was having a really awful day. I was not trying to hide it. A woman took off her scarf (purple - my favorite color) and gave it to me. She said, "you look like you could use something to smile about". I smiled all day long after that. Each time I wear it, I think of this woman, who wanted nothing more than to bring a little light and joy to a spirit downcast.

Imagine the implication of saying to someone, "come. Sleep safely. Eat your fill. Take some warm clothes."

I've thought about this many times over the years. Wondering if it really would work. If I could really walk up to someone sleeping on the street and say, "I will not step over you like you are not there. I see you. And I want to share a meal with you. Know you as a person."

Maybe that's all a person would need to scrape up the last bit of fight that they had and push forward. Maybe. Who knows? No one. But nothing happens if you do nothing.

I've only ever shared this idea with one other person (two, counting Dear, Sainted Husband). Her reaction was what I expected. She expressed her concern for saftey - of my self my home and my belongings. She told me that I was noble, but naive and misguided: "you never know what could happen".

It stopped me. I never did act on it.

But she was right: you never know. You just never know what someone is going to do with a chance to change their life.

The thing is: I'm not worried about stuff. Stuff is just stuff. I didn't come with it, and I can't take it with me. There is the potential for great loss on my part.  I know that. But I believe that people are going to screw up no matter what you do - but you should still trust them with the opportunity and choice to do the right thing.

I have talked this over and over: with people at work, late at night tucked into bed with DSH, with people I know will tell me I am crazy (just to see what they say) and now here (just to see what you say).

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Wise men put their trust in ideas and not circumstances."

So I guess the big, Hamlet-esque question is: "Am I completely crazy, or am I 'Paying it Forward'?"

Good night, lovelies. xo

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Benefit of the Doubt?

Hello, most wonderful cyber friends!

Happy New Year! It is 2011. Or, as I like to think of it, only ten months left until my passport expires. Only ten months left to fill up those pages with lovely, beautiful stamps. Sigh. Low guy on union totem pole does not get to do six country tour of Europe this year. Blast!

Ah, well. Always next year. For now I remain rooted to my tiny little pseudo office, occasionally peeking over at a photo of nieces and nephews....pretending that I am working on something really important while I sip this lukewarm mug of cranberry tea and patiently await my peanut-buttered toast.

Ah, creature comforts. There's nothing quite like it in the world. Feeling warm, safe and taken care of. I am most blessed to have Dear, Sainted Husband... not to mention peanut butter toast. There are just some things in life, that no matter how fancy everything else gets, it all comes down to peanut butter toast.

Remember when you were a kid?

You know, back when wrestling on TV still looked real, kids said 'please' and 'thank you' and peanut butter wasn't a ticket to Immune System Apocalypse....

Your Mom packed your lunch every day. It was great. At lunchtime, you'd open up your blue plastic Zeddy the Teddy lunchbox, and there it was: a peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwich. Made just the way you liked it; cut on the diagonal, with just enough jam.

It's funny how no one else could ever make it like Mom did. Not even Dad. Bless him for trying. But let's be honest: it could be the same bread, jam and peanut butter- but something just wasn't right. It didn't taste the way it does when Mom makes it for you. And if it isn't cut on the diagonal? Well, you can pack that in my sister's lunch, 'cause that ain't mine.

It's the mother's touch. The secret ingredient that makes broccoli taste good, turns your science mess into an 'A' project and makes you feel as if no one else could make you feel as whole as Mom does.

I thought about that today as I was walking to work. After I heard someone screaming... and upon walking closer, realized that it was a mother, yelling at her crying, and obviously embarassed daughter. She was not trying to hide her anger at all, and clearly didn't care who heard her screaming at this kid.

Disclaimer alert: I know that everyone is going to tell me that 'I don't know the circumstances' and 'I don't know what their relationship is like'. Or, that 'I didn't see what happened before'. I know all of that. And yet, a bigger part of me just can't leave this alone.

No matter what the 'circumstances', their 'relationship' or what 'happened before', there was no need for what happened to happen. At all. And I can't get the thought of this weeping kid, begging her mother to 'stop yelling at me' out of my head.

Apparently, this kid was riding the city bus to school. And got off at the wrong stop (this, I gathered from the mother's screaming), which, in the mother's opinion, makes this kid a 'useless retard' (among other things).

Excuse me?

My objections to your bigoted comments about disabled people aside - what is wrong with you? How can you say such hateful things to your own daughter? There is a time and a place for correction. I do not believe that the middle of the street, at the top of your lungs, is the time nor the place.

What is there for her to learn from this experience? Shame? I think that was pretty well covered. Embarassment? Most certainly. Humiliation? Probably.

I tried very hard not to impose myself on a situation where I had no business...for all other reasons previously mentioned. But I really couldn't help it. I have been the kid in that situation (adjectives aside) and I know what that feels like. I couldn't let myself not say anything.

"What you are doing is abusive".

Her response: An open (actually gaping) mouth, and stunned silence. As if she were surprised that I would say something at all.

Then: "who are you to tell me how to raise my kid? I bet you can't even have any". Points for the rebound, my friend. But you were already in Check.

Me: "My reproductive status notwithstanding, the way you are behaving is not appropriate and certainly not acceptable. I have no stake in telling you how to raise your kid, but I can say that what you are doing is not okay."

I crossed the street fully expecting her to chase after me and give me yet another piece of her mind. But nothing. Just standing there.

Relaying this to a co-worker later, I was told that it was likely I made the situation worse for that girl. Part of me fears that I did just that.  But the bigger part of me fears for what would have happened to her spirit if no one was willing to take a stand.

I was.

Even if you don't know who I am, and we never meet again.

I do not think that you are useless.

I sincerely hope that there was more to that than what I saw, and that I really don't know what your relationship is like. Being a mom is hard. I am sure.

Giving the benefit of the doubt? For me, it's harder.

I will now brace myself for all of those 'You don't know the whole story' comments.

Good night, my beauties. xo